One consultation isn’t nearly enough

The Department of Social Development (DSD) will consult with their provincial counterparts and civil society on a proposed Child Care and Protection Policy from 7 to 9 March 2016. This is a crucial document; having it in place is a requirement for proposed amendments to the Children’s Act to go ahead. The policy will inform legislative provisions and services to be delivered to support families and protect children. It is thus of significant concern that DSD will not present the actual policy at the meeting, but rather facilitate discussion of the thematic areas that it covers.

This is to allow consultation on the content of the final policy. However, it does not give civil society service providers an opportunity to have sight of the content of the draft policy before it is finalised.

Lucy Jamieson of the Children’s Institute (CI) said that “(i)t is problematic that only one opportunity for consultation with civil society is being granted, given that it is this very policy which is needed to respond to the unacceptably high levels of violence against children, and that it is mostly civil society organisations which deliver the necessary services”.

The DSD has confirmed that no more consultative meetings are planned, yet the policy “deals with crucial aspects of children’s rights, including violence against children” according to Stefanie Rohrs of the CI.

South Africa has one of the highest levels of violence against children globally, with a child homicide rate of twice the global average. This consultative meeting comes mere weeks after the serious assault of a Grade 3 learner in the Free State at the hands of her teacher was reported in the press.

Corporal punishment in our schools is still rife with an average of 50% of learners reporting, according to the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention’s 2012 study on violence in schools, with rates as high as 74% in at least one province. The Optimus Study found in 2015 that 1 in 3 children reported having been hit, beaten or kicked by an adult caregiver.

Against this back-drop of very high levels of physical violence against children in their schools and their homes, the recommendation made recently by the South African Human Rights Commission that the DSD act urgently to amend the Children’s Act to prohibit corporal punishment in the home is both timely and welcome. This also supports the 2014 recommendation by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child that South Africa “expedite the process of amending the Children’s Act to explicitly ban corporal punishment in all settings including in the home”, advising the country “to harmonise its national laws such as the common law which entitle parents to reasonably punish their children”.

However, for this to happen, the Child Care and Protection Policy must be in place.

We urge the DSD to provide an opportunity for inputs from civil society on the final text before finalising the policy. Our particular concern relates to the role played by corporal punishment in the home in teaching violence in an already very violent society. It is precisely the urgency of this matter that demands better consultation: we need an effective policy, developed by all role-players in the field.

In addition, we demand proper implementation of the prohibition of corporal punishment in schools. Corporal punishment in schools was abolished 20 years ago. Mbuyiselo Botha from Sonke Gender Justice insists that “teachers must be held accountable when they resort to the use of corporal punishment”.

The time to act is now: we demand consultation on the text of the proposed Child Care and Protection Policy, and the speedy amendment of the Children’s Act to prohibit corporal punishment in the home.